Coronavirus stimulus: Should Dems compromise or go it alone?

·Senior Editor
·7 min read

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

Democrats, now fully in control of Congress, have made passing another economic stimulus bill their top priority. President Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that includes funding for a round of $1,400 stimulus checks, enhanced unemployment benefits, money to support states’ vaccination efforts, and a plan to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.

If they keep their caucus together, Democrats have the numbers to pass Biden’s proposal as is, without a single Republican vote. In the Senate, they can use a process called reconciliation that allows budget-focused measures to avoid a filibuster and move forward with a simple majority. But Biden and Democratic leaders have said they would prefer to reach a bipartisan agreement on a bill that can pass through the normal legislative process.

On Monday a group of 10 GOP senators — enough to overcome a possible filibuster — released their own, much smaller, stimulus proposal. The $618 billion plan includes some of the key elements of Biden’s proposal — like enhanced unemployment, stimulus checks and money for vaccines — but with a significantly reduced scope.

Congress approved two major stimulus packages last year totaling more than $3 trillion, but many economists believe another round of stimulus spending is needed to help the country’s economy endure the next several months. Though the economy has improved significantly from the initial shock in the spring, more than 10.7 million Americans remain unemployed and economic indicators suggest the recovery may be stalling.

Senate Republicans have made clear they don’t support Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal, which includes $1,400 stimulus checks to people making less than $75,000 annually (or a couple earning less than $150,000 annually), $400-per-week supplemental unemployment insurance through September, hundreds of millions for sped-up vaccine deployment and to reopen schools, and a $15 minimum wage.

Why there’s debate

Many on the left argue that Democrats should abandon their hopes of reaching a deal with Republicans and move to pass Biden’s proposal on their own. Getting wrapped up in lengthy negotiations would waste precious time and result in a stripped-down package that won’t be big enough to correct the dire economic situation the country is facing. Others say the chasm between Biden’s bill and the GOP proposal shows how impossible it will be to come to an agreement that satisfies both groups.

A more critical group argues that Republicans aren’t interested in actually reaching an agreement but are instead looking to slow down Democrats’ legislative agenda. Whatever political risks Democrats face from appearing to be aggressively partisan are outweighed by the harm the party will suffer if they fail to rescue the economy, they argue.

Others say that Biden would be betraying his promise to unify the country by allowing his party to ram through a stimulus package without any GOP support. Doing so could also use up precious political capital that some say Democrats would be better off reserving for other items on their extensive legislative agenda. Still others point out that Democrats may have to make compromises simply to get the support of the moderate senators in their party, since they can’t pass anything if they lose a single Democratic vote.

What’s next

The Senate voted on Tuesday in a party-line vote to take the first step toward passing the bill through reconciliation. But Democrats could abandon the process at any point and pivot to the typical legislative process if a deal is reached with Republicans.


Find a deal

The GOP can help convince Democrats to remove bad provisions from their plan

“Indiscriminately pouring money into the economy could also trigger inflation. McConnell and his fellow Republican senators have good reason to want more targeted spending.” — Chris Tomlinson, Houston Chronicle

Forcing through a bill would motivate the GOP to obstruct Democrats going forward

“As a newly elected president, he would probably be able to pressure all 50 Senate Democrats to vote with him. Vice President Kamala Harris could then break a tie. But this would be a political and economic mistake. It would mean that his commitment to bipartisan deal-making is only rhetorical, giving Senate Republicans an excuse to avoid future cooperation. And it would make it even more difficult for Biden to pass another economic relief package later in the year.” — Michael R. Strain, Bloomberg

The country benefits when the parties aren’t treating each other as enemies

“Put simply, our country will work much better if we are not at each other’s throats politically, but are at the negotiating table working out a path forward together.” — Jeffrey Sachs, CNN

A bipartisan bill would prevent billions in unnecessary spending

“Over the last 12 months, government at various levels has deprived many people of their ability to make a living in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus. We urge Congress to pare back Biden’s plan. Please focus not on a broad and unnecessary, budget-busting stimulus but on aiding those who are suffering and actually need help.” — Editorial, Washington Examiner

The rest of Biden’s proposals will have a better chance of passing if he compromises now

“Early victories are like yeast. Success breeds success, bolstering public confidence and strengthening the president’s hand for the larger battles ahead.” — William A. Galston, Wall Street Journal

Biden will have to pare down his proposal to gain support from moderate Democrats

“While it is theoretically possible to construct a bill that could pass the Senate with only Democratic support, the party’s centrists complicate the task.” — Richard North Patterson, Bulwark

Go it alone

Involving Republicans gives them the chance to obstruct the process

“Having a big bipartisan hug over COVID relief would require Biden and his fellow Democrats to shrink their ambitions — and count on Congress not to shut off the spigot prematurely.” — Jon Healey, Los Angeles Times

Voters will care about what the bill does, not how it was passed

“Biden and Democrats appear to be aiming high, even if it means Republicans will claim he isn’t being ‘bipartisan.’ Does anyone think voters will care about process posturing if the economy recovers successfully? Of course they won’t. And until Republicans want to genuinely join the conversation about how to make that happen, no one is obliged to pretend they’re contributing anything to it.” — Greg Sargent, Washington Post

The need for economic relief is too urgent to allow bipartisanship to get in the way

“So the new administration will have to be aggressive, using whatever legislative strategies it must to get big things done. By all means, let Biden try to unify the nation; but first, he has to save it.” — Paul Krugman, New York Times

The GOP may not like Biden’s plan, but voters do

“The White House can take this confident position because it knows that ... the things it wants to do are easy to understand and popular. Support for prioritizing another relief package above other policy issues is enormous, as is support for individual components of the bill Biden has proposed, like stimulus checks and raising the minimum wage to $15.” — Ben Mathis-Lilley, Slate

The idea that the GOP can be convinced to sign on to a version of Biden’s bill is a fantasy

“President Joe Biden wants to work with congressional Republicans. He also wants to pass a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package. He might have to choose between the two.” — Ella Nilsen, Vox

The package needs to be big enough to meet the scale of the crisis

“This is one of those times the federal government has to go big. There is so much hurt: more than 10 million are jobless; more than 12 million can’t meet rent and utility payments; up to 30 million are food deprived; many small businesses are closing, with dim prospects for reopening, and state and local governments are being forced to cut back on programs aiding already suffering constituents. There is no prospect for any real improvement until the raging virus is under control.” — Albert Hunt, The Hill

Democrats’ calls for bipartisanship are merely a political tactic

“It’s hard to see how Biden could really believe there are 10 GOP votes for a $15 minimum wage, or $350 billion in fiscal aid to states, or, frankly, most of the items in his proposal. It’s possible then that this gesture toward bipartisanship is intended to fail: Perhaps, the idea is to make the GOP an offer it can’t accept.” — Eric Levitz, New York

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